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Macau dims Sands’ sunshine

By all accounts 2010 has been a pretty good year for Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson.

The $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands in Singapore opened in April and has produced revenues far beyond analysts’ expectations. Table games in Pennsylvania added a revenue source to the Sands Bethlehem.

Company President Michael Leven has brought a calming influence to the corporate operation.

And in November, the Nevada Supreme Court threw out a $60 million verdict that a Clark County jury wanted the company pay to a Hong Kong businessman following a lengthy 2008 trial.

Adelson, 77, was the third richest man in America before 2008. But the economy tanked, stock in Las Vegas Sands fell from more than $140 per share to less than $2, and the company had to avoid bankruptcy by restructuring its corporate balance sheet.

By fall 2010, news came that Adelson, 77, climbed 13 spots on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. He led all Nevadans on the list, coming in 13th with a net worth of $14.7 billion.

So why is Macau suddenly raining on his parade?

Earlier this month, the Macau government squashed a portion of the company’s Cotai Strip development plans, denying an application to build hotel-casinos on two undeveloped land parcels. Las Vegas Sands spent more than
$100 million preparing the sites for construction.

A few days later, Macau police busted a purported prostitution ring operating out of The Venetian Macau, arresting more than 100 alleged prostitutes and 22 suspected pimps.

Macau has prostitution? Macau police turn a blind eye to Stanley Ho’s Hotel Lisboa, where prostitutes have been parading around a rundown retail area for so long, it’s seemingly become a tourist attraction nicknamed, “the corral.”

Adelson was flying into Macau on the day of the arrests, adding to his embarrassment.

There are several reasons why Adelson has fallen out of favor with the Macau government.

The return on investment in Singapore has focused the company’s attention on the new market.

Testimony during the 2008 trial exposed Macau’s gaming concession process. A wrongful termination lawsuit filed in October by the former president of the company’s Macau operations threatens to unveil allegations of “improper leverage against senior government officials of Macau.”

We’ll see whether the bad feelings of December carry over into the New Year.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.

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